Monday, May 26, 2014

"How Are You": A Definition

When I ask you how you're doing, I'm not puking up a piece of small-talk fluff.

Let me just get that out on the table. Maybe “How are you?” is different in the real world. But since there is some confusion about what it means, I'll let you know my definition—what it means when I ask you how you're doing.

When I say, “How are you?”, I am not looking for a one-sentence response. When I ask you how you're doing, it's because I genuinely care. How are you is me asking how your life is going—what you're feeling right now, what's good and what's bad. I want to understand what's going on. I'm not asking for a one-word answer; I'm asking for a window into your life.

How are you is me asking what's on your mind. What has you excited? What has you down? It's a permission to talk, to ramble even. If my friends can stand listening to me talk about the state of the animation industry, it's the least I can do to listen to whatever you're currently obsessed over.

And contrary to popular belief, I don't mind. When I get going, I can talk a lot. But my default is to listen, and I really do enjoy it—even if I'm not saying anything in return.

And when you reply with “alright” without any explanation, it's a missed opportunity for both you and me. If I wanted to know what's new in your life, you can effectively shoot down the conversation by replying with one word: “good”. I don't get to better understand how your life is going, and you don't get to talk to me.

Let's face it. “How are you” is an empty phrase ninety percent of the time. It's just something you say after “hello”, and too often the reply is a cover-up for how you're actually feeling. (“Fine”—except not really.)

And there's really no better phrase in the English language to catapult people into conversation, if they take advantage of it. Shoot straight. Tell people how you're actually doing. 'Cause if you're honest, you're not just “fine”. People can't sum up their lives in one word. You could be doing fantastic, you could be doing awful, but no one will know if you don't tell them.

Dare to say more than one sentence.


  1. I remember you saying something to this effect (but much briefer) to me a while ago on the UG. Since then, I've tried to take your advice and say something more than 'fine', and I've noticed that you're right. At the least, it keeps the conversation from completely dying before it starts, and at best, I and those I'm conversing with get to know each other better.
    Thanks for telling it to me then and for the reminder now.

  2. ugh I hate this...both when I inadvertently do it and when others do it to me. I'm such an introvert that it is so hard just asking people how they're doing, and when they respond with "I'm alright," it completely shuts down on all the effort I've just made. I know I do the exact same thing, though, and I've been working to fix it, but sometimes all people really expect in a response to a question like that is "I'm fine." If you respond back with "I'm not okay," or "I've been struggling a lot recently," sometimes they act surprised and embarrassed...and I think that might be the worst part of it all.

    1. I know what you mean. I wonder if maybe the reason we act surprised Ehen people respond that way, is because our question was not sincere in the first place :)

  3. Once again, Jake, you have made a brilliant post. When I ask people how they are, I want to hear about their jobs, their hobbies, even the things I don't understand (or even care much) about.
    On the other hand, I am such a clam. When people ask me how I am, I think 'well, I'm kind of frustrated with such and such, but I am having loads of fun writing about such and such, and I am eager for such and such.....but...but...I don't know how to say all that." so I respond with a somewhat strangled: "I'm...doing alright......and you?"

  4. I have been thinking of this post some more..and whenever someone asks "How are you"? I stop for a moment. Do I really want them to know? And I consider the question before I ask. Do I really want to know? It is very awkward when you ask someone how they are, and then you get their whole sob story for about 45 minutes. So I'm considering finding a new phrase:) but then...I don't know :)